No-Waste Food Strategies Help This Kansas City Mom of 3 Keep Her Grocery Budget "Naturally" Low

The Swedish-born mom of three balances her frugal attitude with an elevated approach to everyday cooking.

woman in pink apron stands at stove cooking
Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Hardy

Lisa Hardy was born in Gothenburg, Sweden to Swedish parents. On the very same day, Hardy's dad was accepted to Cornell University for graduate school, and within three months, the family was off to the U.S.

"We spent two years living in family housing, and I met children from all over the world," she said. After that, the family moved all over the U.S. and Europe for her dad's work within the hotel industry.

Hardy eventually went to college at Syracuse University, later bouncing around the U.S., meeting her husband, and having her first child in 2006. Shortly after, the family moved to Kansas City and had two more children. These days, two of her kids are now teens, and she says, "We are still in KC and love it!"

Of the whirlwind that was her upbringing, Hardy says, "What I have taken from it all is that food, cultures, entertaining, and cooking have been a common denominator in my life, whether it was at home, at my father's work, through travel, or just hanging with friends."

She adds, "My parents are excellent cooks, and being raised in the hotel and restaurant business, food for us is pretty much top priority!"

Here's how she nurtures that top priority for her family of five while maintaining an economical, no-waste approach to groceries.

Naturally Frugal Mindset

While Hardy feels fortunate to not have to stick to an exact weekly budget, she notes she is nevertheless "naturally very frugal," she says. "I just want to be smart and not waste food."

Part of this inherent mindset is cultural, she explains.

"I grew up in Sweden, and there the culture is one that encourages being conscious of what you spend and being smart,'' she says. "I do not throw away anything! Going out to dinner is a special occasion; eating at home is a pleasure and I try to always make it special."

She shops at Costco, Whole Foods, and local outlets including the farmers' market. "Our local grocery store down the street, the Hen House, only sells chicken that is from a local farm and it is delicious and the cost is actually very reasonable since they don't have to travel very far," she says. "A win-win!"

Amazon is also a go-to source for items she can't find locally, for instance dried Kaffir leaves, Galangal, and black garlic.

Flavor- and Season-Driven Meal Plans

"Meal planning for me is thinking about what flavor profiles I would like to make for the week," Hardy says. "For instance, I purchase proteins and veggies that would work for Italian, Thai, and Mexican."

Here's what seasonal meals might look like in her house:

  • Spring dinner: scallops, arborio rice, fresh spring peas, white wine
  • Summer dinner: skirt steak, rice noodles, red and yellow peppers, red onion, carrots, serrano peppers, lime, fish sauce
  • Fall dinner: whole chicken, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, prunes, chicken stock, arugula, mint, tarragon, lemon
  • Winter dinner: beef short ribs, thyme, red wine, pearl onions, parsley, capers, red onions, new potatoes

Splurges and Saves

Hardy won't compromise when it comes to buying high-quality steak and seafood, great olive oil and wine, and fresh herbs any time of year.

"Lately fresh herbs have been so pricey, but I love using them to make any meal feel fresh, healthy, and flavorful," she says. "In the summer, I try to grow as much as I can, but it's hard to compromise — there is really no substitute."

On the flip side, she buys plenty of affordable staples that she uses throughout her cooking, too, including dried beans and canned goods, as well as bulk oatmeal and rice.

"Dried spices such as ancho and chipotle chillies go a long way and elevate dishes," she says. "Roast them in the oven and place them in water for a while afterwards and then use that liquid for stews and braises. The end result creates such a good deep flavor in dishes where you don't need to use expensive proteins, for instance."

No Waste

Hardy is committed to making the most of her groceries and leftovers. To that end, she transforms veggies on the verge of going bad into a cheap, hearty soup using fresh herbs instead of tossing them out.

Similarly, she says, "I like to take an old stale baguette, place it in the food processor with dried herb and Parmesan cheese, and you have great breadcrumbs for Italian meatballs or a chicken scallopini."

She also uses whole chicken to its fullest potential. "A wonderful bird becomes a great dinner, then the leftover meat turns into a great chicken salad with mayo, tarragon, lemon, curry, and turmeric the next day," she says. "And the third day it evolves into a beautiful chicken stock, cooked down with carrots, celery, onion, lemon and garlic."

In fact, her attitude toward those miscellaneous — even marginal — kitchen odds and ends is one of optimism and even excitement. "Just be cognizant of what you have in the fridge and pantry and you can seriously make anything," she says. "Adding a few new spices can really change things up!"

Leftover Transformations

To that end, Hardy is all about giving leftovers all new life. She'll dice potatoes, with onions and garlic, pan fry, add leftover diced steak, add some Worcestershire and pepper, fry up a sunny side egg and place on top, serving the whole thing with pickled beets. "This is a very famous leftover meal in Sweden, called pyttipanna," she explains.

She'll make use of leftover salmon in a salad with capers, lemon, mayo, chives, salt, and pepper, serving it on arugula with crackers. In the summer she'll intentionally grill extra veggies to serve again later, mixed with a flavorful herby lemon couscous and topped with sautéed spicy shrimp.

"I actually love the challenge of leftovers," Hardy says. "I think the key to leftovers is making it something special — make it a new meal and no one will ever know they were actually leftovers."

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